[Athena] [Curriculum] [Weather]

Observing Clouds

Clouds are made of small droplets of water or bits of ice that are spread out from each other. Rain falls when the drops get too big and heavy to stay in the cloud.

There are three main kinds of clouds.

cirrus cumulus stratus


Cirrus Clouds

Cirrus(meaning "curl") clouds are very high, wispy clouds made of ice. Even in the summer, cirrus clouds are made of ice because it is cold high above Earth.
Can you see the "halo" in this picture? The person taking the picture blocked out the sun with his fist so that he could get the picture. The halo is caused by cirrus clouds. The bright spot on the left is a "sun dog."

Cumulus Clouds

Cumulus (meaning "heap") clouds are the large clouds that sometimes look like huge puffs of cotton. Sometimes these clouds look like animals or familiar things. It is fun to use your imagination to make up stories about the clouds.
Sometimes cumulus clouds get dark gray and rain or hail falls from them. They are then called cumulonimbus clouds. These clouds often produce lightning and thunder. Nimbus always tells us that a cloud brings rain.

Stratus Clouds

Stratus (meaning "stretched out") clouds are made up of low layers of clouds that usually cover the whole sky and blot out the sun. These clouds bring gray days. When rain falls from them, they are called nimbostratus clouds.

Go to Observing the Weather.

Image Credits

All cloud photos are from the University of Illinois Cloud Catalog.

Written by: Kathee Terry

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Last Modified Mon Mar 3, 1997                       

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